Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) may have missed out on a stage win atop Alpe d"Huez on stage 12 of the Tour de France but the Dutchman solidified his position as Team Sky's main threat in the overall standings.
Dumoulin finished second to stage winner and yellow jersey Geraint Thomas on the mountain but put several seconds in Chris Froome, who faded in the sprint and slipped to fourth. As the race leaves the Alps after three days of relentless racing, and with time bonus factored in, Thomas leads Froome by 1:39 with Dumoulin a further 11 seconds adrift.
Dumoulin has shown that his Giro d'Italia exploits have not hampered his chances and with Vincenzo Nibali out of the race due to a crash, and Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana currently focused on the podium rather than winning, Dumoulin remains the thorn in Team Sky's side. He has the individual time trial later on in the race to fall back on and he will be confident of beating Froome on his favourite terrain. Although Thomas is currently the strongest rider on the race and deserves to be in yellow, he is still an unknown quantity when it comes to challenging for honours in a three-week race.
"Team Sky tried to keep both riders in GC," Dumoulin said as he warmed down on the rollers after the stage. "Froome had the chance to attack and Thomas didn't. That's good to know for the future. In the last two days Geraint was stronger."
"In terms of the GC I'm in third position and that's my place for now. Today I was slightly stronger than Froome. Geraint was still the strongest."
Stage 12 saw a high-power break forge clear on the first climb of the day, the Col de la Madeleine. The move included Alejandro Valverde, Robert Gesink, Ilnur Zakarin and Steven Kruijswijk with the LottoNL pair leading the charge before Kruijswijk attacked alone with over 75km to go. The Dutchman started the stage less than three minutes behind yellow and when he established a six-minute lead Team Sky were forced to hit the panic buttons. The British team used valuable resources in their chase and by the time the race reached the final climb the cream of the Tour de France had risen to the top with Dumoulin still in contention.
A flurry of attacks followed with Quintana and Bardet trying to break Team Sky's pace setting. Perhaps the most dangerous attack came when Froome accelerated. He went by Kruijswijk and looked on course to open up a gap and possibly win the stage, but it was Dumoulin who came to the front and slowly reeled the defending champion.
“I was not on my limit then. I knew that I had something left. There was quite a lot of wind. Geraint could take advantage of my wheel."
The lead group re-formed in the final kilometer with Mikel Landa opening the sprint. However, Thomas had the best legs and pushed clear to win back-to-back stages and solidify his GC position. Dumoulin was forced to settle for second on the Dutch mountain.
"I'm not happy. I wanted to win today. I let myself down by making a mistake when shifting when Landa attacked. That was my fault and it was lost before the sprint started. I had a chance. Thomas was slightly stronger but if I played it stronger then I would have had a chance."
"It was mental. Lots of the GC riders attacked on the Madeleine, including Kruijswijk. It was a full on chase the whole day, and it was really crazy."
With the race well poised before the next barrage of mountains Dumoulin was asked if he had seen enough on Alpe d'Huez to suggest that Team Sky could be beaten in this year's Tour de France.
"Eventually it all depends on legs. They have a really strong team and they are capable of pulling anything back. But if Thomas or Froome has a bad day then you have to take advantage."